Terry Gross aired an interview with Kay Redfield Jamison, professor of psychiatry at Johns Hopkins. You may know that Jamison authored a best-selling memoir about her own struggle with manic-depressive illness that began when she was age 17.
Today she discussed her new book: River On Fire: Genius, Madness and the Poetry of Robert Lowell. Jamison writes about the link between bipolar disorder and creativity, specifically looking at the life of poet Robert Lowell who himself suffered from depression alternating with classic, extreme bouts of psychotic mania. Redfield explained her motivation for writing the book:
My primary interest wasn't writing about Lowell, whose work I love. I love his poetry and his prose. But one of the things that I've been interested for a very long time is the relationship between - why is it that from ancient times to present science, the relationship between creativity and particularly mania and depression has been so emphasized? It's controversial. People think sometimes it's a romanticization or reductionist. But in fact, in recent years there's been a great deal of science over very large populations of subjects looking at this.And I've had a great love for Robert Lowell since I was 17 years old and I had my first very bad psychotic break.
Lowell, who somehow maintained a career at Harvard, was hospitalized about 20 times at McLean Hospital, a psychiatric facility affiliated with Harvard Medical School and Mass General. Lowell's manic episodes were of the severity that many police officers would be required to get him under physical control and admitted to the hospital.
Jamison really does avoid romanticizing the subject, and is careful to discuss the severe damage and pain arising from bipolar disorder, both for the patient and for the patient's friends and loved ones.
Audio of the interview and a written transcript are here.